In Shiny Objects, a cross between In Praise of Slowness and The Tipping Point, consumer behavior expert Professor James A. Roberts takes us on a tour of America's obsession with consumerism—pointing out its symptoms, diagnosing specific problems, and offering a series of groundbreaking solutions.
Roberts gives practical advice for how to correct the materialistic trends in our lives which lock us into a cycle of financial hardship and stress. Shiny Objects, a new The Paradox of Choice for the modern reader, is more than a critique of capitalism—it's also an exploration into how we can live happier, fuller, more productive lives today.
Why can't money buy happiness? Roberts, professor of marketing at Baylor University, studies why Americans believe and behave as if possessions will induce, increase, and enhance happiness when, as studies show, materialism "negatively correlate" with well-being. He examines the psychological underpinnings of our desire to purchase even beyond our means (it's a high "similar to that caused by drugs or alcohol... triggered by internal psychological tension and accompanied by relief and frustration"). Roberts offers a history of American consumerism, drawing parallels between different eras (e.g., the gold rush and the more recent dot-com boom), the impact of Calvinism, Henry Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Vietnam War and the counterculture, and how the attacks of September 11 influenced (and usually stoked) the American mania for consumption. Roberts's inquiry provides ample psychological and historical insights, but the book's most valuable and unique feature is the quizzes included in each chapter. These opportunities for self-assessment on how much we spend, how vulnerable we are to status anxiety give readers "time, space and motivation" to examine our own relationships toward consumer culture and personal happiness. An intriguing cultural history cum self-help book with abundant hard scientific data.